Wallabies coach Michael Cheika may need to revisit his appraisal of Australian Super Rugby progress after a mixed bag of performances in round three.
Hopes were raised of a revitalised Australian challenge in 2019 following some positive results in week two, with Cheika echoing the thoughts of many in an upbeat interview released by Rugby Australia.
A more realistic rating may be needed after the Brumbies opened the weekend with a humbling 43-13 loss to the Hurricanes, a week after they’d pulverised the Chiefs.
At least one of Cheika’s early observations rang true, with Quade Cooper at the heart of some slick attack for the Rebels, in addition to his improved defensive work.
Cheika described the mercurial five-eighth as being in strong contention for a Test recall given his early season form. That view won’t have changed after Cooper set up two of the Rebels’ four tries.
Cooper made mistakes but displayed a heady mix of game management and the ability to spark swift attacks in conjunction with Will Genia.
Unlike the Reds a week earlier, the Rebels were able to withstand a late Highlanders charge, helped when Shannon Frizell’s spilled possession on the try line in the dying moments.
The Crusaders underlined why they’re the firmest of favourites to claim a third-straight crown, dominating the forward exchanges and possession for long periods against the Reds.
Brad Thorn was heartened by his young team’s defence but warned the Reds would keep coming up short against the competition’s best if they failed to place value on holding possession.
The Brumbies weren’t even in the contest in Palmerston North, muscled off the ball at the breakdown and bowled over by a legion of Hurricanes power runners.
Coach Dan McKellar asked supporters not to forget about the Brumbies team who had dismantled the Chiefs 54-17.
“A week’s a long time isn’t it?” he told AAP.
“We weren’t as great as what everyone was telling us seven days ago and we’re certainly not as poor as what people will be telling us after tonight.”
The Brumbies can avenge their opening-round loss to the Rebels when they travel to Melbourne on Friday.
A second Australian derby will be in Sydney the following day when the Waratahs return from a bye to face the Reds.
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